Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology: An Introduction to Some Current Issues in Literary Theory

By Christopher Butler | Go to book overview

4 The Text and the External World

It is by words and the defeat of words,
Down sudden vistas of the vain attempt,
That for a flying moment we may see
By what cross purposes the world is dreamt.

Richard Wilbur, 'An Event'

I have so far used the notion of 'situation', which is crucial to interpretation, in an ambiguous manner. All texts, I argue, construct situations which control a great deal of what it is plausible to say in interpretations. Any attempt to establish a semantic pattern within a text (of the kind involved in talk of codes and metaphorical models) is only plausible if we are aware of its relation to such possible states of affairs, for as Culler remarks, 'we may interpret statements about the weather as metaphors for states of mind, but no one ever read statements about moods as metaphors for the weather.'1 These situations are part of the mimetic commitments of the text. They thus relate to the ways in which we think about the world, via the encyclopaedia, and our sense of the cultural salience of the codes which the text contains. The notion of mimetic commitment here is supposed to indicate the fact that all texts implicitly select an area of experience with which to deal. Thus as Iris Murdoch points out with respect to Ryle Concept of Mind: it reflects 'the world in which people play cricket, cook cakes, make simple decisions, remember their childhood and go to the circus, not the world in which they commit sins, fall in love, say prayers or join the Communist party.'2

My argument so far has tended to show that the text is in a potential if problematic relationship to the external world, or at least to what we take as the framework of our knowledge and belief about it. But there is of course a further question, which we have touched on already in discussing the fictional and historical features of the Rumelhart example (pp. 7 ff.), and also in our discussion of the interpretative paraphrase of metaphor. Do we, in interpreting thc text, take the relationship between it and the world outside it as actually or potentially referential?

The philosopher's notion of reference is a complicated one in which the relation of reference is usually taken to hold between an expression and some other really existent portion of reality, whether

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Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology: An Introduction to Some Current Issues in Literary Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Implication 1
  • 2.1 - Metaphor in the Text 8
  • 2.2 - Metaphor in the Language 19
  • 3.1 - Linguistics and Interpretation 26
  • 3.2 'Leda and the Swan'; Three Approaches 36
  • 4 - The Text and the External World 46
  • 5.1 - Deconstruction and Scepticism 60
  • 5.2 - Ambiguity and Self-Contradiction 66
  • 5.3 - Free Play 77
  • 5.4 - Norms for Interpretation 83
  • 6.1 - Ideology and Opposition 94
  • 6.2 - Hidden Ideology 103
  • 6.3 - Marxism and the Dominant Ideology 110
  • 6.4 - The Moral and the Political 121
  • Notes 137
  • Bibliography 154
  • Index 157
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